Egypt Independent, by Hafsa Halawa (Defendant #28):

… It’s a story those following Egypt have read many times; the armed raid on 29 December 2011, the trial, and it’s been all but too well documented that on 1 March 2012, the non-Egyptians (except for American Robert Becker) fled the country. Then, nothing. … after 1 March everyone decided for themselves that this was over for them.

 

But it’s not over for me, Mohamed El Wakeel, Rawda Ali, Ahmed Shawky, Amgad Morsy, Bassem Fathy, Magdy Moharram, Essam Ali, Ahmed Zakaria, Yehia Ghanem, Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Mohamed Abdel Aziz and Eslam Mohamed. We are the Egyptians left behind; potentially facing five years in prison… But when it comes to this case and this revolution, I am Egyptian; no more, no less. It’s the reason why I stayed, despite calls to leave, the reason why I joined the National Democratic Institute and why I continue to fight even though others wouldn’t

 

… What I do worry about, is that this case has put civil society firmly back in its own cage, and no-one is willing to speak up and fight for it… Local organizations which continue to work do so only in the most discreet fashion. Funding is hard, if not impossible, to come by.

 

The political influence over this case and the effect it has had on the ability for organizations to work has stifled and strained resources. It has created a stigma no-one can shake-off: working for an NGO is only seen as a threat to Egypt’s sovereignty. A friend of mine tried to obtain government approval to register an NGO; a government employee asked her: “Are you one of those 6 April kids?” – she wouldn’t give her the forms.

 

… You can’t have real democracy without impartial media and a flourishing civil society. They provide the checks and balances on a social level that legal directives cannot. More importantly, they keep politicians honest.

 

… I believe that the precarious situation civil society now finds itself in is fundamentally the fault of civil society itself. The clear lack of focus on this trial and lobbying by all human rights groups in Egypt to amend the laws is disappointing to me, to say the least. For Egypt, it is purely destructive.

 

Furthermore, the lack of discussion on a policy level by politicians, revolutionaries and opposition members is failing democracy and our revolution. Instead of shedding light on how Egypt is strangling its civil society, everyone is far too scared they will also be labeled “American spies.”

 

There is far more to democracy than protesting in Tahrir, opposing a few presidential decrees and voting in the polls. This country can never move forward and educate its people if we do not force a very public and very political discussion on the issues that matter most to the very democracy we’re fighting for.

Hafsa Halawa is a lawyer and a former member of the National Democratic Institute.